Atlanta committee in talks with NCAA about Final Four venue, other issues

This architectural rendering  shows how Mercedes-Benz Stadium was supposed to look for the Final Four.

(UPDATE: NCAA cancels tournament, Final Four. See story here.)

Officials with Atlanta’s Final Four host committee are holding discussions with the NCAA on Thursday about how to proceed with the event, including options for playing it in a smaller venue than Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Discussions are ongoing with the NCAA and local partners and will continue throughout the day,” Dan Corso, president of the Atlanta Sports Council and chairman of the host committee board of directors, said late Thursday morning. “We are just going through every scenario and every situation. … We are taking (the NCAA’s) lead.”

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The NCAA announced Wednesday that the Final Four in Atlanta, like the rest of the organization's men's and women's basketball tournaments, will be played without fans in attendance because of coronavirus concerns. That decision obviously makes a venue as large as Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which was scheduled to be expanded to more than 80,000 seats for the event, unnecessary.

Asked if both State Farm Arena and Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion are options at this point, Corso said: “That’s part of the discussion, what type of event venue would (the NCAA) be looking at in size and scale. There are a lot of elements that go into it. It’s not as easy as saying this venue or that venue.”

Corso said that as of late morning the venue remained “one of the top items” under discussion.

A two-week schedule of work in Mercedes-Benz Stadium had been scheduled to begin Sunday to transform the building to a basketball venue, including the installation of a massive temporary lower-bowl seating system and a scoreboard above mid-court.

Since the NCAA announced Wednesday that its tournaments will be played without fans, both the NBA and MLS announced their seasons will be suspended because of coronavirus. The SEC, along with other conferences, halted tournament play.

As of late Thursday morning, Corso said the possibility of the NCAA canceling its basketball tournament “has not come up in our conversations with them. We are proceeding as if the Final Four is going to come to Atlanta and the tournament starts next week. That’s been our discussions to this point.”

The overall situation remains fluid.

“I think it’s an important thing to understand that these are uncharted waters,” Corso said. “Keep in mind this is not just about Atlanta and obviously not just about sports either. It’s something we’ve never been through before.”

This story will be updated later Thursday.

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